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During the Snowstorm

4.2

Affairs of the Rolling Red Dust

61

Boys, young men, and men competing in the club all wore the same standard outfit: a shirt and pants. Though she thought she had grown tired of this universal look, she still couldn't help stealing a glance at him.

 

Silently, Yin Guo pointed to the back of her collar, indicating something to him. Lin Yi Yang caught her meaning but didn't budge.

 

"The collar is not folded properly," she whispered.

 

"Where?" he asked his voice barely above a murmur.

 

......

 

Yin Guo reached around to touch the spot, this time making contact.

 

Lin Yi Yang understood the gesture and used his right hand to smooth out the collar's outer edge, pinching it and sliding his fingers around the neck to the plastic button at the collar's opening.

 

"Is it better now?" he asked.

 

She tried to understand it as him referring to the shirt in a straightforward manner, but it was probably just a professional habit that made her notice the small details of his outfit. She couldn't help but feel a twinge of concern when she noticed that he wasn't wearing a belt with his trousers.

 

"Why don't you borrow one from my younger cousin?" she thought. "Oh, forget it. You're not going to a competition anyway."

 

As Lin Yi Yang stood face-to-face with Yin Guo, he couldn't help but feel a sense of awkwardness. They had been standing there, with their legs touching, for what felt like an eternity until he finally mustered up the courage to flash a smile. After a brief moment of silence, he turned his head and began rummaging through the pile of pants in the closet, eventually emerging with a black leather belt that he had purchased on sale.

 

As he fastened the belt around his narrow waist, Yin Guo felt a twinge of embarrassment wash over her. She averted her gaze, choosing to look away as he buckled up. "Your brother wants to play a couple of rounds with me," he spoke up, breaking the silence. "If you want to watch, go ahead. If not, you can wait in the apartment. I'll be back in a while."

 

Lin Yi Yang's hand landed gently on Yin Guo's shoulder, his touch firm yet tender as he said, "Let's go." With that, he picked up his coat from the couch, headed towards the apartment door, and closed it behind him, his thoughts heavy with the question of whether to have a serious match with him or to play casually.

 

The weight of his dilemma lingered in his mind as he descended the stairs, the warm weather providing little comfort against the weight of his thoughts. He mulled over his options, each one carrying its own set of consequences.

 

Despite his mental turmoil, the short walk to the billiard court was pleasant, the sun shining down on his face and the breeze ruffling his hair. He chose not to wear his coat and carried it with him instead, the cool air a refreshing respite from his inner turmoil.

 

Meng Xiaodong stood at the door of the billiard room, having found it on the map, his eyes glinting with mischievous energy as he waited for Lin Yi Yang's arrival.

 

As soon as Lin Yi Yang arrived at the pool hall, he asked for a room without saying much to Meng Xiaodong. Knowing that Yin Guo had been diligently training, he had arranged for the room to be booked for the whole afternoon and evening. When he entered the room, the older people playing inside warmly greeted him and even praised his 'girlfriend's' dedication to training.

 

Without acknowledging the comments, Lin Yi Yang closed the door and pointed to the nine-ball table in front of him, asking, "Shall we play this?"

 

Meng Xiaodong's reply was firm, "You should know that unless I switch to another field or retire, I won't play nine-ball."

 

Lin Yi Yang smiled lazily, knowing that snooker was no longer his sport of choice. "Since I retired, I haven't touched a snooker table," he said, trying to avoid the challenge.

 

But his opponent, Meng Xiaodong, wasn't going to back down so easily.

 

Their eyes locked in a silent exchange, both of them determined to come out on top. Lin Yi Yang fiddled with an orange ball in his hand, bouncing it up and down as if to gather his focus.

 

"Wait," he finally said before going out.

 

Meng Xiaodong leaned against the window, watching the sun set over the city as he waited for his opponent to return. He had competed in many tournaments before, staying in a specific hotel with people from the club, and the billiards room was always reserved for them. The room was spacious and clean, providing a calm environment for him to concentrate on his game.

 

After a brief absence, Lin Yi Yang returned, cue in his left hand and a cardboard box in his right. The box, once used to contain drinks, now held a set of snooker balls. The only snooker table in the room was often unplayed and vacant. Lin Yi Yang poured the contents of the white paper box onto the table: one white ball, fifteen red balls, and six colored balls, a total of twenty-two.

 

He meticulously counted each one with his hands to ensure no balls were missing. As he surveyed the table filled with red balls, an uneasy feeling crept up on him. Seeing them scattered on a blue table that didn't belong to them felt strange.

 

Lin Yi Yang bent over and carefully arranged the balls on the snooker table, one by one, his movements slow and precise. With each ball placed in its designated spot, he felt a sense of satisfaction, a reminder of the countless hours he had spent in his youth perfecting his skills on the snooker table.

 

"This should be fair. We are using snooker balls on a nine-ball table," he said, standing up and stretching his back. He gestured to the nine-ball table nearby, its smaller size and larger pockets a far cry from the snooker table they were accustomed to. "Playing on this table won't be easy for either of us."

 

Meng Xiaodong nodded, looking unsure but determined to give it his best shot. Lin Yi Yang hadn't played snooker in over a decade, but he was confident that his muscle memory would kick in and help him adapt to the unfamiliar table.

 

Once the balls were set up, they both stepped back and surveyed the table, making small adjustments to ensure a fair game. Lin Yi Yang gestured towards the rack of cues on the wall, indicating that they needed to choose their weapons. He knew Meng Xiaodong didn't have his own cue with him, "Let's make do with the public ones."

 

As they selected their cues, Meng Xiaodong pulled out a coin from his wallet.

 

As Lin Yi Yang and Meng Xiaodong set up their snooker game, they faced the dilemma of deciding who would break first. Typically, the referee would toss a coin to decide, but Lin Yi Yang was determined to maintain the sport's traditions. "You are a guest here; you break," he told Meng Xiaodong, offering him the opportunity to make the first move.

 

To keep track of the score, the two players called upon an older man who was experienced in the snooker game. Although he didn't know Lin Yi Yang very well since he was not a regular in this billiard room, the man recognized Meng Xiaodong instantly. As word spread quietly throughout the room, the other billiards players gathered around to watch the game.

 

The players stood at opposite ends of the snooker table, both dressed in collared shirts and trousers. Despite the age difference, their youthful appearances made them look like young men in their early twenties to middle-aged spectators.

 

Meng Xiaodong began the game with impressive accuracy, as expected from a player known for his steady shots. He studied each ball carefully before sending it into the pocket, taking only a brief moment to think before making the shot within 25 seconds.

 

Lin Yi Yang watched attentively, sitting on a billiard chair and leaning against the wall. As the red snooker balls disappeared one by one, memories of his past games flooded his mind. But he was quickly snapped out of his reverie when Meng Xiaodong unexpectedly made a mistake, sending the cue ball into the wrong pocket.

 

Feeling the sudden shift in the game, Lin Yi Yang requested a cup of hot water to soothe his stomach, anticipating that Meng Xiaodong would easily finish the first game with one shot. But the unexpected error left an opening for Lin Yi Yang, who now had his turn at the table.

 

"Your turn," Meng Xiaodong said.

 

With a playful grin on his face, Lin Yi Yang set down his cup and rose from his billiard chair, holding the cue in one hand and slipping the other into his pocket. He leaned over the table, surveying the remaining balls under the warm glow of the table lamp.

 

"You're not going to let me win, are you?" he quipped, trying to break Meng Xiaodong's concentration. But the young master remained stoic, focused on the game ahead.

 

Lin Yi Yang strode around the table, examining the angles and calculating his next move. He positioned himself carefully, then struck a red ball with a force that made the other balls on the table rattle. He raised his index finger and pointed at the farthest black ball, a silent challenge to Meng Xiaodong that he intended to hit it.

 

The two men had played different variations of billiards before, but snooker was a different beast altogether. It was scored on a points system, and the rules required more strategic play than the fast-paced, high-scoring game of nine-ball.

 

The snooker game is complex and nuanced, with a myriad of rules that must be carefully followed to avoid incurring penalties. The game's objective is to score as many points as possible, and to do so, the player must first strike a red ball with the cue ball and then choose a colored ball to hit. Once a colored ball is hit, it must be returned to its original position on the table.

 

Red balls are worth a single point, while colored balls have varying point values. Yellow balls are worth two points, green balls three, brown balls four, blue balls five, pink balls six, and black balls seven. It is, therefore, advantageous for players to aim for the colored balls with the highest point values.

 

It is important to note that the game has many rules, and even a minor mistake can result in a penalty.

 

......

 

On this evening, the billiard room witnessed a rare occurrence: Lin Yi Yang, known for his swift moves, paused to let others witness his thought process. Except for Meng Xiaodong, no one could guess what was going on in his mind. He was revising the snooker rules and familiarizing himself with the points each ball is worth.

 

After the first few games, both players entered a highly competitive state. In the fourth game, Lin Yi Yang's speed picked up the pace, and he cleared the table with ease, earning him a round of applause and cheers from the room. Someone even held up a bottle of beer, cheering "Lin" in his honor.

 

But Lin Yi Yang merely shrugged it off and pointed to the corner of the room, saying, "A case of beer on me."

 

This single statement brought the room to its feet, whooping and cheering.

 

In the fifth game, Meng Xiaodong made a clean break, and Lin Yi Yang observed quietly from the pool chair. The son of the owner of the billiard room, still curious, approached Lin Yi Yang and asked, "Who is he?"

 

Lin Yi Yang took a moment to respond and then said, "Someone from my past. A brother."

 

The child's curiosity grew, and he asked, "Is he a professional snooker player?"

 

Lin Yi Yang simply nodded, but the news had already spread like wildfire. The referee had mentioned that he was one of the top five players in the world, with a record of high prize money.

 

Lin Yi Yang wasn't well-versed in the current state of the snooker industry. When Jiang Yang had explained the current prize money system to him using Meng Xiaodong as an example, Lin Yi Yang had been surprised to learn that Meng Xiaodong was currently ranked fifth in the world this season, with cumulative prize money of over 600,000 pounds.

 

It was undoubtedly a high annual income, but Lin Yi Yang knew it was only average.

 

If he worked harder and had more opportunities, he could easily catch up to Meng Xiaodong in earnings. Furthermore, he won't look shabby being with Yin Guo.

 

Amused by his thoughts, Lin Yi Yang couldn't help but smile and wonder, "What do you think, Lin Yi Yang?"

 

Lin Yi Yang ran his fingers through his hair, feeling a wave of excitement and curiosity. He took out some bills from his pocket and handed them to the boss's son, whispering a few words to him about paying for the beer at the counter.

 

The obedient boy ran off, and when he came back, he whispered to Lin Yi Yang, "Your girlfriend is outside the door."

 

Yin Guo? Lin Yi Yang took out his phone and looked for Red Fish on his WeChat.

 

Lin: Are you here?

 

Red Fish: ... I told him not to tell you. I wanted to wait until after you finished playing.

 

Lin: We're finished.

 

Red Fish: That was fast. Who won?

 

Lin: :)

 

He placed his phone on the chair and returned to the pool table, gesturing for Meng Xiaodong to rack the balls. The score was still tied in this game.

 

Meng Xiaodong sat up straight, his competitive spirit evident. "Can you take this seriously?" he challenged.

 

Lin leaned against the table, lacking the same energy as his opponent. "Tired," he murmured.

 

That's a lazy sentence to what he really wanted to say: I came back by train for several hours, not to play billiards with you.

 

Lin looked at the table with three red balls and all the colored balls left. He picked up the cue and, with practiced ease, sank each ball one by one, the hits and shots executed quickly and precisely. He didn't care about the rules of snooker anymore; he was simply enjoying himself.

 

As the last colored ball sunk into the pocket, only the white ball and the black ball were left on the table. Lin bent down and lightly pressed his chin on the dark brown cue, his mind lost in thought.

 

Then he caught a glimpse of Yin Guo's figure standing amidst a group of rough men, looking over at him. A smile spread across his face as he took a deep breath and hit the ball with force. The black ball flew towards the bottom pocket and, with a dull sound, fell into the pocket on its own.

 

Meng Xiaodong smiled with approval as he watched Lin Yi Yang's powerful stroke. The white ball was about to enter the pocket, but it did not, showing that Lin had perfect control over his shot. Without years of practice, it would be impossible to play with such skill. Lin was a perfectionist and aimed for nothing less than absolute perfection with every shot and every goal.

 

As the game came to an end, Yin Guo walked over to the scoreboard and looked at it, trying to figure out who had won. Meanwhile, Meng Xiaodong wiped his hands clean and checked his silver metal watch.

 

"Are you coming back with me to the hotel that the club arranged?" He asked Yin Guo

 

"I don't think so," Yin Guo replied, her voice firm. "It's already dark out. I'll come see you tomorrow."

 

Meng Xiaodong nodded in understanding. He usually didn't make such requests, and he knew it wasn't safe for her to be out alone at night. He'd rather have the whole world not disturb him during his training, but he also cared for Yin Guo's safety. Did he take the wrong medicine today?

 

Yin Guo muttered to herself, feeling a mix of annoyance and concern for her cousin. She knew he was focused on his training, but sometimes he could be a little absent-minded. She followed Meng Xiaodong out the door, bracing herself against the cold wind that blew fiercely.

 

Just outside, they waited for their game to finish. The wind seemed to go straight down the collar of Meng Xiaodong's coat, making him shiver. A food truck was parked on the roadside, displaying a row of red, green, and yellow sauce bottles. The food posters stuck to the side of the truck fluttered in the wind. The yellow light illuminated their faces, casting a warm glow on their features.

 

"I'll call you a car," Yin Guo offered, concerned about his well-being.

 

"No need, I'm good taking the subway," Meng Xiaodong replied, making his way to the food truck to order a hot dog.

 

Yin Guo waited outside the dark brown wooden door, trying to shield herself from the chilly wind. Her cousin's behavior was strange today. They could have gone back to the hotel for dinner, but he insisted on buying a hot dog from the food truck parked by the roadside. The food truck attendant handed him a freshly made hot dog, and he took a big bite.

 

"He's a good guy, but his family background is a little poor. Mainly because he doesn't have any parents. But that's not a problem. If your parents don't agree, I can help you handle it," Meng Xiaodong said, speaking directly to Yin Guo.

 

Yin Guo was left speechless by her cousin's abruptness. "No parents?" she thought to herself. "Why is he bringing up my parents?"

 

Meng Xiaodong continued without pausing, "You should work hard to bring him back and get married in China."

 

"Marriage?" Yin Guo thought. "How did he jump to that conclusion?"

 

Yin Guo quickly interrupted, "Cousin, you've got it all wrong! We're not at that level."

 

Meng Xiaodong laughed at her hurried response, but Yin Guo felt uneasy under his teasing. It really wasn't that kind of relationship.

 

Meng Xiaodong looked at her reddening face and brushed her bangs aside. "Our profession has a long career span, and he has the skill to play until he's 40. He's only 27, in his prime, with plenty of opportunities. Yin Guo, try to persuade him to return to China. You don't know how talented he is."

 

Yin Guo couldn't fully understand Meng Xiaodong's mood, but she could see the genuine concern in his eyes.

 

Back then, they had all made a name for themselves in China and had a large group of people practicing and competing together, but few remained now. Actually, Meng Xiaodong had another reason for coming here today, which was to assess Lin Yi Yang's skills. After ten years of work offstage and one minute onstage, if Lin showed any signs of slack, he wouldn't escape Meng Xiaodong's critical eyes.

 

It was heartening to see that Lin Yi Yang still loved and could not give up this sport deep down. But, unfortunately, he wasn't a very competitive person. Winning or losing didn't matter to him as much as playing each game with brilliance and style. When he stepped on the court, he aimed to play beautifully and enjoyably, whether it was his hitting or footwork. Although the teenage Lin Yi Yang had always joked that he only played for money, everyone could tell that he played for the sheer love of the game.

 

This is what makes it difficult. Slogans like "aim to become the world's number one" cannot motivate him.

 

Yin Guo was left feeling uneasy by her cousin's words. How could marriage change Lin Yi Yang's approach to the game? It was a puzzle that she couldn't solve. Meng Xiaodong, on the other hand, seemed to be in a good mood and rolled up the paper with a smile, putting down the half-eaten hot dog. Meng Xiaodong chuckled and continued, "You must get married, Yin Guo."

 

"Brother!" Yin Guo stomped her foot, feeling embarrassed by her cousin's comment.

 

Yin Guo's cheeks flushed with a mix of irritation and confusion. What did getting married have to do with anything they were discussing?

 

Without further explanation, Meng Xiaodong quickly located the subway sign and headed off down the street. Yin Guo lingered at the door for a moment, deep in thought about her cousin's words.

 

Suddenly, her phone buzzed in her pocket, jolting her out of her reverie. She pulled it out and saw that it was a message from her cousin. The last time they'd interacted was during the Chinese New Year when Meng Xiaodong had sent her a red envelope.

 

M: I thought you would go for someone more mature, but you ended up liking a naïve and pretty boy. However, others in our social circle consider you the prettiest and most naive...

 


 

Xiaoguo: We're not together yet, really.

 

There was no response from her cousin.

 

"Click, click," Yin Guo could hear the faint sound of a lighter cap clicking open and closed. The sound felt weightless like it had fallen onto her heart.

 

Her attention drifted back to the ballroom where she had left Lin Yi Yang standing by the door with one hand in his trouser pocket. He was playing with a lighter and appeared to have been waiting for a while.

 

Outside the billiard room, the street was undergoing an outdoor renovation, and the long walkway overhead was adorned with rusty scaffolding and planks that hung precariously over their heads.

 

The darkness had enveloped the surroundings, and the streetlights were being obstructed by the planks, casting a yellow glow on the ground beneath. She had words on the tip of her tongue, but she couldn't muster up the courage to say them. Her cousin's remarks about marriage kept ringing in her ears, and she found it hard to look at Lin Yi Yang directly.

 

She tried to act nonchalant and started observing an older man buying a hot dog from a food cart nearby. The yellow mustard bottle is crushed, and the mustard spirals around the hot dog.

 

Lin Yi Yang continues to play with his lighter, patiently waiting for her. The man in front of the food cart leaves, and there's nothing else to watch, so Yin Guo has to look at him again. Lin Yi Yang smiles but still doesn't say anything.

 

Yin Guo reluctantly steps out from behind the wooden door on the left and approaches Lin Yi Yang, standing on the two steps leading up to the entrance of the billiard room. She makes a casual comment, "You came back earlier today than last week."

Last week, she had just arrived in New York at this time, and this week she had finished playing billiard and sent off her cousin.

 

"I wanted to see you earlier," he says, closing the lid of his lighter. His dark eyes sparkle in the dim light. Yin Guo can feel her heart skip a beat.

 

The billiard room was alive with the sound of laughter and clinking glasses as the night drew deeper and the party-goers grew more intoxicated. Amidst it all, Lin Yi Yang's gaze remained fixed on her, unrelenting and intense.

 

"The lighter looks pretty cool," Yin Guo tried to make small talk, her nerves on edge under his unwavering stare.

 

"It's alright," he responded, his tone nonchalant.

 

"Is it yours?" she pressed on, trying to draw him out of his silent reverie.

 

Lin Yi Yang shook his head in response.

 

To prove his sincerity, Yin Guo reached out to take the lighter from him, hoping to get a closer look.

 

Lin Yi Yang handed it over, and the antique silver stainless steel case gleamed in the dim light of the room.

 

As she examined the intricate design, he suddenly grasped her hand with his own, the lighter still clasped in his other hand.

 

Laughter filled the billiard room, and Yin Guo's heart pounded in panic. It was the son of the pool hall owner who had just come out and gone back inside.

 

On the streets of New York at night, it feels like everyone is watching them holding hands. The food truck owner, the passerby buying hot dogs, the customers outside the restaurant across the street, and the people in the pool hall...but in reality, nobody knows who they are or cares who they are.

 

Yin Guo tried to calm her racing heart as someone inside called out, "Lin."

 

Yin Guo startles and tries to pull away from Lin Yi Yang's grasp.

 

"I won't go in. We'll go out for dinner," Lin Yi Yang reassures her, but he makes no attempt to move from his position against the door. He pulls her closer, enough to make them appear like a couple deeply in love to anyone passing by.

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